The Missional Church with Heber Ticas
Welcome to the GC Podcast, a podcast to help you develop into the healthiest ministry leader you can be by sharing practical ministry experience. Here are your hosts, Cara Garrity and Sarah Rossi.
Cara: Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of GC Podcast. Sarah it’s now the beginning of February, which means it’s time for my favorite holiday here in the US. Can you guess what it is?
Sarah: Valentine’s Day?
Cara: No! It’s Groundhog’s Day.
Sarah: Oh, well, jokes on me.
Cara: It sure is. I love Groundhog’s Day. For those of us who aren’t familiar with Groundhog’s Day, do you want to explain this silly little holiday for our listeners?
Sarah: Sure. So not sure when this event started, this holiday, but essentially the legend goes that if the Groundhog sees its shadow – oh, can I remember which way it is? – if it sees its shadow, that means spring is coming. Right? Right, Cara?
Cara: I think so.
Sarah: And if it does not see its shadow and it hides – hides back or something like that – then winter will continue. So, the legend goes. Clearly, it’s not super memorable if I can’t even get the right way, but there’s some great movies that’ve come out of it.
So happy Groundhog’s Day.
Cara: Yes. Happy Groundhog’s Day. I don’t remember all the details either. But I just love this idea that we have a day all about groundhogs and that we entrust the prediction of the weather to a Groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil – or however you say his name – and groundhogs’ whether or not he sees his shadow.
But you are right; we do also celebrate Valentine’s Day here, at least in the US. And that’s also a day where, in one form or the other, some folks, in some shape or form, sometimes think about the celebration of love, for better for worse. We are focusing on the ministry of the love avenue this year, Sarah. And so, I’m curious, what do you connect with in the ministry of the Love Avenue?
Sarah: I think I most connect with the emphasis on understanding the unique context of each church and neighborhood and engaging with your neighborhood based on that context. And it does require a lot more work than providing just some generic plan to all churches in the world. But I think looking at the context really brings a lot more fruitful result.
And while it can be helpful to look to what other churches have done, you really need to adapt to the strengths of your church and your community’s specific situation. So that’s what I really connect with most with the Love Avenue.
Cara: Amen, and what I love about what you said, Sarah, is that makes it real and human. It’s not cookie cutter, it’s not copy and paste. But it’s organic, and it’s about what is happening here in this community, not something that is generic. So, I appreciate that. I appreciate that aspect of the Love Avenue as well.
I’m also curious. As a young leader, what do you hope for in the ministry of the Love Avenue?
Sarah: I actually hope that the Love Avenue, not only focuses on the needs of communities, but also looks to the strengths that these communities already have. Many times, it’s really easy for us as individuals or as churches, to just focus on what a community lacks and to see the church as a solution, to that lack.
However, both from my professional and personal experiences, I believe it’s really vital to recognize the strengths that a community already has and to elevate those strengths so that individuals are empowered to be a part of their community and to vocalize their needs and to provide solutions to those needs.
For example, instead of churches focusing on all of the things they think that young people lack from their lives, why not instead focus on all of young people’s strengths, including perhaps the different ways that we see and engage with the world.
Cara: Thank you for sharing that. And I think that connects with our interview with Heber Ticas for today and what he shares about mission: this idea that we join God in what he’s already doing in the world, that our church doesn’t go into a community and bring God where he is not already. But there’s something beautiful already at work, in the lives, in the communities of people when a church connects and shows up.
Let’s go ahead and listen to our interview today with Heber Ticas, as he shares with us about mission.
Hello friends and welcome to the latest episode of GC Podcast. This podcast is devoted to exploring best ministry practices in the context of Grace Communion, International churches. I’m your host, Cara Garrity.
And today I am blessed to interview Heber Ticas. Heber Ticas is the GCI Superintendent of Latin America, newly appointed to the GCI board of directors. And he’s a champion of church planting and multiplication. Heber, thank you so much for joining us. Today, we’ll be exploring what it means to be a missional church, but before we get started, I’d love for you to share with us: What is one way you’ve been experiencing the joy of Jesus lately?
Heber: Hi Cara, I hope you’re well. I hope everybody at the home office is doing well. And thank you for that introduction, but you forgot to say that I am a pastor at heart.
Just kidding. No, the joy of Jesus is always in our hearts, Cara. I thank the Lord for everything that he does in our lives. I thank him for the opportunity that he’s given me to serve his church as a board member as well. And that was a joyful occasion, having been appointed to that.
I enjoy Jesus of late, through the miracle of life, through my grandson. I have a grandson – my first grandson – he’s four months old, and it’s a such a joy and such a blessing to spend time with him.
Cara: Amen. Thanks for sharing. And we’ve got a lot of ground to cover today, so why don’t we jump on in! Let’s go ahead and get started here. I’d love for you to share with us what is mission and why does it matter?
Heber: Wow. Right off the bat here and you’re coming up with strong questions! Like you mentioned in the introduction, I am passionate for the mission of God and I’m passionate for multiplication. And when we talk about mission, we have got to go back to the heart of the Father. I believe that God is a missionary God, and therefore, mission flows from God, from the Father to humanity.
He is a sending God. Mission tends to flow from the love of the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit. So, if we look at scripture, if we look at the narrative of scripture in the Old Testament, we’re going to find that the God is consistently sending, that he’s consistently sending men and women to participate in his mission.
First and foremost, he is the one who has a mission and we get to participate in it. If we go back and we can see God, if you recall, sending Noah to build an arc and sending Abraham to leave Ur to go into the land of Canaan. He sent Moses, he sent kings, he sent prophets.
And eventually he sent his Son, Jesus. And it says that, “God, so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.” So, we can see the flow of mission from the Father because he loves us. And then Jesus, he sends the church. He says, “Just as the Father has sent me, therefore I sent you.” That’s a beautiful passage on the Great Commission out of the book of John 20:21.
And of course, we have the Great Commission. So, if we were to bring it down to a nutshell: mission is our participation in Jesus’ mission to the world. We get to participate with him with what he’s doing in people’s lives. So that’s how I see mission. It flows from the Father, Son, and Spirit through the Church by the Spirit. We participate in the part of the Spirit.
Cara: Amen. I love that. Thinking that about it’s flowing from God through Jesus, through the church. So, what does that look like? How do we get started participating in and developing these missional rhythms in our church neighborhood?
Heber: When I think about mission, I think of it in two ways, or when I think about missional rhythms, per se, I think of it in two ways. I think about the individual mission or rhythms that we have, because we’ve been all called to be on mission with Jesus. And we can think of mission or rhythms in our neighborhoods from the perspective of a corporate body, corporate expression.
So, we have our own individual missional rhythms. We’re all missionaries with Jesus. We’re all on mission with Jesus. As a matter of fact, I would even say that mission is our identity. That it’s Jesus’ identity to be on mission. So that’s our identity as well.
Then we say, how do we get started? You have daily rhythms. We go to different places, like a place of work. We have a home, we have a neighborhood, an individual neighborhood, all those places that we tend to be at consistently, or those third spaces, like a coffee shop, like a neighborhood store, the different places that we go with consistency – we’re on mission right there because Jesus is on mission everywhere. So that’s from an individual perspective.
Now, if we’re talking about missional rhythms in our neighborhood from a corporate perspective, how do we get started? When we think about the gospel, I think about the gospel in two ways: I think about gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration.
Gospel proclamation is when we talk about Jesus or we say, “Oh, Jesus loves you. He wants you. He desires. He pursues you. He’s calling you to be in relationship and community with him.” Gospel proclamation. But gospel demonstration is more about being present in people’s lives. Sometimes, it’s just about serving.
Sometimes, it’s just about being there and helping and doing with people. And what happens is when we have that posture of just being with people and being present and helping with whatever it may be, people will ask questions so that gospel proclamation will take place. From a church perspective, a church can get started with their own mission or rhythms in any neighborhood by finding what is the need of this neighborhood where my congregation is at, and what are the giftings that we have within our church body that we can go and participate with Jesus.
Another good question would be, what is Jesus doing? How can we discern what the Lord is doing and how can we jump in and participate? And how do we participate? Through gospel demonstration. Is that making sense, Cara?
Cara: Yes. And I love how you phrase that question: What is Jesus doing? Because I think in developing this missional rhythm, that’s so key. Jesus is already there in our neighborhood, right? We’re not bringing anything. We’re not bringing Jesus into the neighborhood. He’s already there, and we are going to participate.
And that connects with what you already said: mission is already flowing from the heart of the Father. It’s not something we do apart from the him.
Heber: Let me give you more of a tangible example. The pandemic’s been rough, right? It’s been rough on everybody! In my own congregation, we’ve had a difficult time, picking up the rhythms, the missional rhythms that we had from a corporate perspective, from a body perspective as a church. And because while not everyone is back in our church, we’ve been having in-person services now for a good eight months, well about six, seven months maybe – but not everybody’s back.
We’ve got about sixty percent of the church. And one of the good missional rhythms that we’ve had throughout the years in our church is that we have a service that we call the “blessing of children” service. Now Cara, for ten, twelve years, we’ve had this rhythm.
Where our congregation is, about two blocks from where we’re at, there’s a Chuck E Cheese. You remember going to Chuck E Cheese, Cara? You loved it, huh? And our children’s ministry would do two things to participate in our community. We would go to the Chuck E Cheese and we’d go right up in that plaza. We’ll be right up in front of that plaza and our kids would go and would just engage other kids there. That’s one way that we would participate in our neighborhood.
Another part of our rhythms is two blocks from our church there’s also a park, and there’s a soccer league there for kids. Our kids would get involved there. And our children’s ministry would bring a table, and we would bring waters and Gatorades, just to demonstrate the gospel, just as a good, tangible way of being involved. And then, we would invite them into the life of the church, for children to be blessed. So, we’ve had that for a long time, and it’s been a really good rhythm that we do twice a year.
We do it in April, and we do it the Sunday before Halloween. And this year – we actually just did it this past Sunday – and I was really surprised. I thought we would have about twenty kids, maybe twenty-five kids in my mind hopefully, because we’ve been having about fifteen kids at church. And before the pandemic, we usually had about thirty kids at church.
I was really surprised that we had about forty-five kids come to church. Even though we were not out in the community this time, what happened was – because the church understands that this is part of our rhythms – they invited in friends and neighbors. And they participated individually in the mission of God, as we participated corporately as a church, because through the years we’ve had some missional rhythms going.
Is that making sense?
Cara: Yes, I think that’s a beautiful example of that dynamic, what you’re saying of those personal missional rhythms and that corporate missional rhythm of participation.
Heber: The church is opening up the spaces. As a church, we have to create the spaces. And we open them up so the church can participate both individually and corporately.
Cara: Yes. And now you’re talking about creating these spaces and inviting back, connecting mission back to the local church. Can you talk to us a little bit about this connection of mission back to the local church? What that looks like without falling into that bait-and-switch kind of pattern?
And maybe with that, can you explain the bait-and-switch pattern? And then how do we connect back to the local church without falling into that pattern?
Heber: That’s a great question. First and foremost, we’ve got to understand what is our calling? Our calling is participation. That’s first and foremost.
And Jesus’ mission has not ceased in the world. It’s by the power of the Spirit that we’re participating in that mission. But the calling to the church as participation is not just to proclaim Christ, but it’s to make disciples. So, I believe that disciples, discipleship, or this participation in making disciples occurs best as we share life with people.
As we build relationships with people, as we join their lives’ journey and they join our journey as well. If we’re going to participate holistically in mission, we have got to invite back, or we have got to connect back to the corporate life where relationships occur. We’re participating in mission in our neighborhoods, in our communities.
And you mentioned, we just don’t want this bait-and-switch. So, is it about filling up all the pews or all the chairs in our church or is it about making disciples? It’s not about just filling up the pews and the chairs, and it’s not about offering something just so you can come to our church. It’s so much more than that.
Although the expression of it being the church is a key part, it’s all about participating with Jesus in what he’s doing in people’s lives. Inviting back into the life of the church is this corporate expression of being the body. We’re participating missionally in our community, just as an example.
And we’re building relationships because that’s what it’s all about. Because I firmly believe that the best space for disciple-making has got to be when we get in life-on-life scenarios and situations where we’re living life with people. But in order for that to occur, we have got to earn a space. We got to build a relationship, right?
And it’s got be a no-strings-attached relationship. And that’s the way it occurs. So, as we invite them back into the life of the church, then what happens is that the non-believer, the seeker, the sojourner, however we want to call it, comes in and observes the expression of worshiping our God, but also tends to observe that expression of being in community as a church body.
And then it gets invited in, into smaller gatherings and that’s where disciple-making happens. To conclude this thought it’s really about being on mission with Jesus. Inviting back into the community of the corporate body. And as we do that, then disciple-making can occur.
Cara: Yes. And what I hear in that is the term that you use “no strings attached,” that these relationships are real, that I’m not trying to connect with people just to get them to come to church.
And then that other piece that I heard is the motivation, right? Are you actually being motivated by the mission that’s flowing from the heart of the Father or by, as you said, the number of people who are in seats or in pews? And so that motivation lying behind – is this bait-and-switch or is this living out of calling to be making disciples and creating space within the disciple-making community of the church? That’s good.
Heber: No. You caught this. If I can give you a tangible example, I’ve been participating in the journey of the life of this man for probably about eight, nine years. He doesn’t come to our church often. He’ll come from time to time, and he’s got a drinking problem.
I recall one day, Cara, he calls me and says, “Pastor, you have said that I can call you any time that I needed you.” I did say that at some point and we tend to say things, right? We’re going to call him “G;” his first name starts with “G.”
He used to come to one of the small groups that I was leading, and he’s just struggling with a drinking problem. And I said, “You know what? You can call me anytime that you need help. You just call me. And if I see your number, I’m going to answer. I promise you; I’m going to drop things and I’m gonna answer.”
One day, Cara, he calls me. It was a Sunday afternoon. It was a day after church and we had gone someplace else with my wife. We hadn’t really had lunch, and we wanted to go eat something. And he calls me, and I look at my phone and, “oh my God, it says G.” And I always remember that I told him he can call me, that I would answer.
And I answered and he was drunk. He said, “Pastor, I need you to come to my house. I need you to stop by. I really need you to see something.” So, I’m like, man, what do I do? I have my wife with me in the car, I got my son and we’re hungry. We weren’t too far from his place, so I told my wife, “I’m going to drop you guys off right here at this place. (It was at a restaurant.) And just give me an hour and just let me go see what’s going on here.”
So, I went and all he wanted, Cara, was for me to see him drunk. And he said, “I don’t want to be like this. This is not who I want to be. And I want you to see me in this way.” And I prayed for him. I was there about forty minutes or so, and then I left, but that stuck with me.
This happened about three, four, or five years ago. “G” has never been able to get connected to our church. He still has a drinking problem. He still calls me from time to time, and it’s been like seven years. And sometimes, I say to myself, “I’ve done enough. I’ve done enough with ‘G’.” And then I asked myself, “So am I the one who’s doing it or is it Jesus who’s doing it?”
So, this journey, it’s a long journey sometimes. And “G” doesn’t have to come to my church for me to be on mission with him and for me to continue to be part of his journey. That’s what the bait-and-switch looks like. If we get to that point where we can love people, wherever they’re at, whatever time they are in their lives, then I think that we’ve understood what Jesus is all about and what Jesus is calling us to do.
Cara: Yes, that’s good. I think it’s the “both and” too Heber. Because I hear what you say too, of the calling of disciple-making. We hold that kind of life experience of what you just said, that bait-and-switch is not okay. Like, this person has never come to my church, so I just give up.
And we also hold that inviting somebody to come participate in community is not necessarily a bait-and-switch. There are ways in which and expressions in which that can be just the participation in the calling of the church. I think that it is a discernment as you participate in Christ. I think those examples are helpful to our listening audience because it’s not clean-cut and clear.
Heber: No. And thank you for saying, because I’ve also heard in some circles that, some people will take it to the extreme that: okay, we can’t invite someone to church because this looks like a bait-and-switch.
And no, it’s not about that either. When we invite someone in, we invited them in to participate in our expressions of how we worship God and how we live in community with each other. There’s nothing wrong with that as well.
Cara: I think, motivation. Are we participating in what Christ is doing? As you said, is this me doing this? Is this about me? Or is this about what Jesus is doing in our midst?
Heber: Yeah. What’s our motivation? That is the key.
Cara: Okay. That’s good. Moving on a little bit. Thank you for sharing those tangible examples. I think that can help us in this discernment process.
Can you talk to us a little bit about this distinction between missional and missionary?
Heber: I’m glad you asked that question. Yeah, I would love to talk about this. When we talk about missional, we talk about rhythms, right? That we all have rhythms in individual fashion and a congregation needs to pick up missional rhythms to participate.
And a church opens up spaces where the body as a whole participates in a neighborhood. But yet, you create spaces as well, where the members can participate individually and invite in connect back to the life of the church and to experience the expression of being the church. So that’s missional. Okay. We’re living the mission of God with Jesus by the Spirit. Okay, that’s missional.
Now missionary. To me, I define it in this fashion: missionary becomes a different space where things are different, where things are quite different, where the rhythms are totally different, or the rhythms of life are totally different than my personal rhythms.
It becomes a missionary space because I need to bridge over into that space. I need to cross over into a place where I’m not comfortable, where things are different, where people are different, where the expressions of life are completely different than my expressions of life and the way we live life in my community, in those around me. In that sense, it becomes missionary.
I’m going to give you a good tangible example of what it looks like from my perspective. I had a situation some years back, probably about ten years ago, in my church where this family got connected to our church and was invited in by someone from our church.
And she came into our Wednesday night. And Wednesday nights, we had a Bible study; we had youth service; and we had different things during that season of our church. And she came in with need. She was asking for prayer. She was asking for prayer for her son who was in juvenile hall. He had been arrested for stealing cars with some friends, and the kid was seventeen. I think he was seventeen or eighteen at that time. And we were praying with her, and she got connected to our church. Maybe two to three months later, her son had a court date, and he was released. He was released from prison, and he was shown some grace by a judge.
That same day- it was a Wednesday that he had the court appointment – that same day, she came to church with her son. She brought pizza, she brought different things, and it was a celebratory tone. She was grateful because she felt that her son was given a second opportunity.
Now that’s her younger son, her older son was in prison. And I think he’s still in prison for gangbanging and for attempted murder or something to that effect. Herself, at some point in her life, she was also involved in that gang life.
And when this kid came to our church, he got connected to our church. He was in our church for about eight months or so. And one day, he told me that he wanted me to visit him, that he wanted to talk to me. And he opened up his heart, Cara, and he says, “Pastor, I don’t want to live this life,” because he had grown around the gang.
Most of his friends were part of this neighborhood gang and his brother was part of that life and sister was part of that life. And he said out loud, “I don’t want to be part of this life anymore.”
And I started working with him a little bit, but it turned out, Cara, that maybe a couple of months after that conversation, he went to a house with someone, a friend from that gang. Because that friend was a tattoo artist, and he wanted to see how she does a tattoo and he was considering getting a tattoo. And when he approached that house, he was gunned down! Man, that was one of the difficult times in ministry for me. It kind of hit me to the core of my being. And I ended up doing his funeral. I ended up getting to know some families that were connected to that family.
One family in particularly got connected to our church, as well with her son. Her son’s name was Abdullah. Cara, a year later, this kid, Abdullah, was also gunned down! Man, I’m like, “This is hard! This is difficult!” And now I’m doing two funerals. I’m doing different services, memorial services for this kid and for the other kid that got gunned down. And one day – well, to go back a little bit – so, I’m doing this kid’s funeral, and I’m there at the funeral home about 3:00pm. From 4-5:00, it was going to be for the family. And then from 5-9:00, we’re going to have service and people can come from the community.
But when I go inside the funeral home, one of the ushers takes me into the office and he introduces me to another usher. Turned out that this other usher, he was a police officer. It was an undercover police officer. He said, “This is a gang shooting, and we’re here for the safety of everyone here and to gather some intelligence.”
I’m like, “My goodness! What am I getting into?”
Now the same thing happened with the second murder that I also did the funeral service. I got home, after I did that service, and I started Googling this gang. I found out that it was one of the most notorious gangs here in the city. And I say, “My gosh! I don’t know how to minister to these people!”
This is a missionary situation for me. I’ve never been involved in gang life. So, to connect to the psyche and the thinking, what goes on, in that life, it’s totally different. I need to bridge myself over into that psyche. I need to earn that space in order to be, in order to participate with Jesus.
Now God is at work there. No doubt about that. And I would even say that the Lord used me in many ways with some of those families. But to me, it got to the point that I was too deep in and I said, “No, I need to step back. This is not part of my rhythms, and this is not part of my gifting.”
Does that make sense? I think that’s a missionary situation for me.
Cara: It does. And can you share why you believe this distinction between missional and missionary is important for local churches to consider as they build out their rhythms?
Heber: Yeah. Those are great follow-up questions because it’s easy to get involved with things that we want to get involved from afar, per se. For example, there are a lot of parachurch ministries that would do ministry to people without homes.
They would do ministry even with people in the gang life and they’re parachurch ministries. For a church to participate in missionary type of environments, it means that the church needs to live life there because again, our missional movement has got to do with disciple-making.
If disciple-making occurs life-on-life, it’s about building relationships, building community, and being part of this journey. That means that we have got to be willing to embed ourselves in that space and in that community. See? So, I needed, Cara, to embed myself in that community of those families who have kids involved in gang life, or even, multiple people involved in gang life.
And it couldn’t be just me. I needed to bring some other people along with me in order to be effective in my ministry participation or missional participation within that environment. Think about this. As a corporate body, as a church, you know how we’ve been called to live in that space? Are we gifted, to live in those spaces that our missionary?
So that’s why it’s really important for preachers to consider our missional rhythms. Are they missional or are they missionary nature?
Cara: Yeah, that’s good. Thank you for sharing that. Shifting gears just a little bit. It is connected, but sometimes, an important part of learning new rhythms is unlearning old for rhythms.
In your view, what are some of those sacred cows or old habits that you think can present barriers to building missional rhythms in our lives and in our neighborhoods?
Heber: Sacred cows? You like that word.
Cara: I know it’s a little dangerous, right? Dangerous territory for you.
Heber: There is this saying, that some people are gifted for evangelism. I’ve heard that. People have told me, “Brother, you’re an evangelist. Brother, you have the gift of evangelism.” There’s this thinking within the church that only certain people have the gift to be on mission with Jesus. Okay. That’s for those folks.
And there’s something that I call, we got to “move” a congregation in order to get to these missional rhythms that we’ve talked about us as a church body. It doesn’t happen overnight. We have got to intentionally move a congregation into dabbling with these rhythms, right?
It’s got to start with mission mentality. We have got to change the mindset that missional living is not just for a group of gifted people within the church body. The missional living is our identity, that Jesus has sent us all. Right? He has sent the church. That the church is a sent organism, that we are a sent people.
So that’s shifting the mentality. I say those sacred cows starts with breaking down those barriers that only a few within the church body are gifted to participate in mission. No, we are all being called to participate in mission. In shifting this mentality, there’s some that I called, this outward mentality or there’s inward mentality.
Churches tend to become inward in nature. It becomes good. It becomes fun. Isn’t it fun when you go to church and you hug your brothers and sisters? And you haven’t seen him for a week, and it’s a safe place, right? It’s a safe space. But getting out and participating on mission, then that space is no longer safe sometimes.
You have to change, shift the mentality. You got to shift the DNA of the congregation in order to participate in mission. I think there’s a very good Biblical example of this. You remember when Paul came to Athens? And Paul in Athens, he said that his heart was broken for the city.
It was broken for all the idolatry that he saw in the city. The book of Acts tells us that he went to the synagogue. He worshiped with fellow Jews in the synagogue, but at the same time, he moved to the marketplace. So, he lived in the synagogue, but moved over to the marketplace. And he started building relationship with people there in the marketplace.
He built a relationship with folks there and started proclaiming the gospel. And then he was invited into the council, to the council of thinkers, the Areopagus there in Mars Hills. So now he went to the third space that he was invited in. So, we can see how Paul moves from the synagogue, to the marketplace, to a special place where you can only be there by invitation. And he lives out missionally in there.
So, moving the congregation, from the safe place of the church, of the four walls, because for some reason, when we look at Jesus, did he live inside the synagogue or did he live outside of the synagogue? He lived outside, right? He didn’t live inside.
So, we have this inward movement in the church that everything is inward towards us. The most sacred thing that we need to break down is probably this sense of community that we have within the body that becomes a closed group. And we need to move outward, and be inclusive in living outside of the four walls of our congregation.
That’s more of a general thing. We can talk about some detailed things that tend to be sacred in a congregation that need to be broken down as well. But it really starts with mentality, with this mindset of who we are as a body and what we’ve been called to be as a church body.
Cara: That’s a good word. I have heard the same that there are those who are gifted for evangelism and those that are not. I think that word is hopefully gonna liberate folks to think differently about mission and how God has called and formed us to participate in his mission. And that as a foundation for shifting mindset to think outwardly,
Heber: I can give you another example of this or how this participation happens and how this mission or mentality gets permeated within the church body.
I mentioned this “blessing of children’s” services that we have. And again, we’ve been doing those things for twelve years almost. And it’s a really good rhythm for us as a church body. But, even the children, they have relationships. Kindergarten kids, first grade, or second grade, they have relationships at school.
It never fails, Cara. Every “blessing of children’s” service that we have, there’s always multiple kids who bring their friends to the expression of being the church for that service. It just happened this past weekend that I had the same service.
A kid, his name is Jayden, he comes up to me. The first thing he comes out to me and runs up to me, says “Pastor, I want to introduce you to my friend, Daniel. He lives in the apartments right next to my apartment, where we live. We’re friends.”
Cara: That’s incredible.
Heber: The point that I’m trying to make is about this whole sacred cow thing. The one thing that really needs to shift, in the life of a body, is really the mentality of who we are. We’re a sent people. God has sent us. We are privileged people to be the Lord’s hands, the Lord’s feet, and participate with him.
And I tell you one thing, a lot of people are scared. I don’t know where that comes from. I’ve never experienced that. They’re scared about being on mission with Jesus. But Cara, we can talk all day long here about the joy. And I know you’ve experienced that joy because we’ve had some deeper conversations about this, the joy of participating with God.
Cara: Yes. It’s awesome. Yes. I love that. Speaking of that joy, I think, this next question I have for you speaks to that in some way. As we build out, participating in Jesus’ mission through these rhythms, what do you believe are some signs that healthy missional rhythms are being developed within the life of the church?
Heber: From the corporate perspective, from a church body perspective, from a historical perspective, we never want to make it about the numbers on Sunday morning. Or at least we say that, but the reality is the numbers do tell a story. Okay, one of those signs? I would want to measure the amount of people that are getting connected to our Sunday gatherings.
And I would also want to measure the amount of people that are connecting to our connection groups. I see that as signs of rhythms that are happening. That our people, our church members, and folks within our church are willing to participate with others, I want to measure that. And then I’ll also want to measure: are they willing to invite them to the Hope Avenue, to our church, to that expression of being the church? Are they inviting them into some type of a gathering? I see those as signs.
Again, although I want to make this clear! It’s not about numbers, is not about just counting how many people are coming to church or how many new people are coming to church. But it is also a sign that our church members are willing to invite others into this expression of being the church. And they’re excited about participating in that expression. And they’re excited about bringing their friends and their family. So, I think that we can measure it in that way.
There’s also other signs that we can measure. We can measure the excitement in our congregations about missional living. What is the posture in people’s face? How do they look when we talk about getting out in our community?
I remember when I was inviting – in the early stages of going through renewal in our church and having the group of folks that I have in my congregation – I was inviting them to, “Hey, let’s get out in the community and let’s get out and meet people,” and just being a little afraid of that. But when you start seeing excitement for doing that, we start seeing that those barriers are starting to come down, I think that you’re starting to catch some rhythms. But it’s not overnight. This does not happen overnight, Cara. And I want to make that clear.
I talked about missional mentality, building a DNA in a congregation. Church plants or new expressions, fresh expressions of being the church, they tend to have a lot more success in missional living. I wonder why it’s that? Why is it that a church has a hard time moving into their community? And it tends to be because we get comfortable. We tend to get comfortable in the church.
Like in an expression of the church, who tends to be our friends? Our friends tend to be those who come to church. Who do we invite to our birthday parties or Christmas party? We tend to invite our friends from church.
Because churches tend to take on a particular DNA. That inward mentality tends to take hold. So, when you start to see excitement in the life of a congregation of moving out into the community, that means that they’re starting to feel that joy of participation. So that’s a good sign.
That’s the first rhythm that you’ve been moving to the missional mentality, moving from theory. And you’ve had some missional movements into the community, that you’ve taken your people out and you’ve started to build some relationships in the community. Or maybe you’re serving in the community, and you start inviting back a little bit into the life of the church. Okay. Those are some signs that: Hey, this is shifting!
I think that there’s four things that need to happen. Missional mentality needs to be developed in the congregation. Missional development is developing people for mission, for people to understand that we’re sent organism, to inviting them into participate just a little bit out in mission.
Then you have missional movements where you move the whole congregation out to experience what it is to participate with Jesus. When you can discern, when you can pray with others. And then, you start picking up some missional rhythms. It starts with excitement. I think you do measure it when people are inviting back or connecting back into the life of the church, whether it be at a connection group, whether it be at your Sunday gathering, whether it be at a church event, or whatever that expression may be.
I think that’s when we start seeing that the rhythms are starting to pick up.
Cara: Thank you for sharing those four pieces, because one thing that I noted is missional rhythms, you listed last, right? So, they’re even sounds like some of these foundational pieces that come before for rhythms are beginning to fully develop.
And you’ve mentioned that missional mentality is important in the development of participation. These are the things that prepare for these rhythms, that become developed over time personally and corporately. Because wouldn’t that be sad if we developed missional rhythms where people were sad or grumpy to be in the community, right? Because we hadn’t developed the missional mentality first.
Heber: Yeah. You know what, Cara? Then what’s going to happen is that you’re going to have one frustrated church! If you start with missional rhythms, you’re going to have one frustrated congregation because you have not done that infrastructure.
We have got to develop mentality first. Then, you have missional development, and then you have a missional movement. And then, you slowly move out to be on the mission. And then you start seeing those missional rhythms. And guess what? A lot of times, you’ve got to change up the things that you do before you catch some good missional rhythms. I can tell you the many things that we’ve done in our church that have flopped, or that don’t really build relationships, that look too much like a bait-and-switch that I had to put the brakes to it, and say, “Okay what are we doing here?”
So, it takes time to catch rhythms. When I consult with congregations, one of the first things that we want to talk about is our target communities, right? Are we gifted to be in this community? What are the needs of this community? A congregation may be in a posture of renewal, going through a renewal process in the life of the church. That’s a three-to-five-year proposition, easy. And going through that process, a congregation may find that they need to replant themselves, that they’re in the wrong community, that they’re in the wrong area. So, they need to realize their congregation someplace else. They need to discern where the Lord is calling them.
Even before you can catch a missional rhythm, you may be in a situation that you need to replant your church. It takes time!
Cara: That’s good. Stories are great teachers, as we have heard today. Heber, are there any other stories that you would like to share with us that you believe demonstrate what this process can look like? Like you said, it takes time to develop from missional mentality to missional rhythms.
Any story that you’d like to share that you believe demonstrates what it can look like to grow from missional mentality to missional rhythms?
Heber: Wow. You saved the best for last, right? The most difficult one. Through the years, I’ve been working with different congregations. Here in the US, I worked with church revitalization and church multiplication. And most recently, as you mentioned, I am the superintendent for Latin America. So, I’ve been working with our churches in Latin America, and it’s been a joy! And it’s also been an experience to kind of learn and see churches try to move from that missional mentality into missional rhythms.
I can think of a few stories from congregations, but one that really comes to mind, that is vivid in my mind right now is our church in Mexico City. I’ve been working with that congregation. Even before I was a superintendent, I’ve been working with that church.
And I did an event in that church maybe four years ago. I did an Outside the Walls event. And Outside the Walls event is just really helping the congregation to get into the community and engage the community and really have a presence in the community. That’s the big idea behind an Outside the Walls event.
And but the church really didn’t quite get what they were doing at that time, although they had success in doing it. But now, I have seen that church pick up rhythms, really good rhythms. They’ve really gone from a church of about thirty-five, forty to a church of about eighty to a hundred people.
It’s been a really beautiful sight to see. And I tell you this because I’ve been doing some equipping on a team-based, pastor-led and the three ministry Avenues, and this congregation has really embraced the three ministry Avenues and has organized their congregation around the Avenues with intentionality.
So, I am seeing this church catch some really good rhythms, even though we’ve gone through the pandemic, they haven’t lost their rhythms. And now they’ve been back at in-person meetings and consistently being in their community.
We had our call with them not too long ago. And I said, “what does you map look like? What are you guys doing within the pandemic that you think is helpful?”
And their Love Avenue leader said, “One of the things that we’re doing right now, that I think is really bearing some fruit is we opened up.” Because the schools were closed in Mexico City as well, and they had online learning. He said, “A lot of kids in our community around church don’t have internet access. So, we boosted our internet access at church and we opened up our facilities so they can come and do their homework here and have internet access here.”
I said, “Wow, that’s a really neat thing that you guys are doing!”
I’ve seen this church be frustrated. I’ve seen this pastor grow. I’ve seen the church grow a little bit. I see their teams now excited and their infrastructures and their foundations be solid. So, this congregation is a really good story and a neat story to be able to see how the Lord has been moving throughout the years in the life of a pastor, in the life of leaders, in the life of the church.
And then how the pastor has been able to draw others and invite others and recruit others to go on mission with because he saw himself in a replant type of a scenario, even though they were still meeting at the same place where they were meeting before. So maybe that story helps out a little bit of how a church catches rhythm. But we’re talking here about a seven-year process, six-to-seven-year process.
Cara: Yes. Thank you for sharing that. I hope that’s encouraging for our listeners, that it doesn’t happen overnight, that it is a process. And that change and growth and transformation is possible even with those frustrations, as you mentioned.
Thank you for sharing that. And so finally, I have one more question for you. Is there anything that we haven’t touched on, that I haven’t asked you that you would like to share with our listeners today about mission?
Heber: We’ve talked a lot about mission and I would just want to say that multiplication happens in different stages. Like you mentioned, I’m passionate about church multiplication. I believe in church multiplication. I think that the Lord wants to do something with us in GCI, and we’re going to see church multiplication happen, with more efficiency and a lot more often in our church.
But I think that multiplication needs to take place first and foremost, at the basic level of disciples. We need to multiply disciples. We need to multiply leaders in our churches. We need to multiply ministry workers. We need to multiply ministries, and eventually we need to multiply churches. The one question that you didn’t ask me was, being on mission, living on mission, being the mission of church, it’s seen at its peak when we’re multiplying churches. I’m praying for that.
Cara: Amen. I’m right there with you.
Heber: Thank you, Cara.
Cara: Thank you. This has been an incredible conversation about mission. I think that it gives a lot for our listeners to chew on, pray through, and discuss with hopefully their local leadership teams.
I’ve got a little bit of fun for us as we start to close out our episode today. I have some fun and silly questions that I’d love to just shoot out at you. If you are up for it.
Heber: Fun and silly, huh? I don’t know if I trust you, Cara Garrity!
Cara: I’m so trustworthy. So, let’s do it. All right.
What’s your preference? A day of adventure or a day at home?
Heber: A day at home.
Cara: Heber, hit us with your best joke.
Heber: Oh, come on. You got me there. My best joke. My goodness. You got me there. I can’t even think of one right now.
Cara: All right. We’ll let you slide on that one. Which color M&M tastes the best?
Heber: By far, the yellow one. That’s an easy one.
Cara: If you could write a book that was guaranteed to be a bestseller, what would you write about?
Heber: The joy of pastoral ministry.
Cara: Amen. Heber, what’s the worst job you’ve ever had? Now be careful!
Heber: Working with Cara? No, just kidding.
You know what? Oh, my goodness. The worst job that I’ve ever had? I haven’t had too many jobs in my life. I’ve been blessed, but I did have a job when I was sixteen, a part-time job where I helped this man cleaning theaters overnight. That was brutal. In the summer, overnight, in the San Fernando Valley in southern California, we drove around three in the morning, four in the morning, from theater to theater, small theaters, cleaning those theaters. Oh my gosh.
Cara: That sounds rough.
Heber: But I did get some free popcorn out of that one.
Cara: Okay. Okay. All right.
Books or movies?
Cara: Okay. And finally, if you could go to Mars, would you and why or why not?
Heber: Hell, yeah! I would go to Mars! Why would I go to Mars? It’s outer space for crying out loud. It’s exciting. You mentioned a day of adventure or a day at home. I do like adventure, but lately – I just turned fifty a year ago. I’ll be honest. I just turned fifty-one this year – and I’m liking home a bit more because I do so many things outside, but the opportunity to go to Mars? Come on, Cara, let’s go!
Cara: Ah, that’s an adventure you couldn’t turn down.
Okay. Thanks for having a little bit of fun with us on the podcast today, and thank you for taking the time to join us. As is our practice with the GC Podcasts, we like to end our show with a word of prayer. Would you be willing to pray for our churches, our pastors, and our ministry leaders in GCI today?
Heber: Amen. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s such a joy, Lord, to talk about your mission and to talk about how we get to participate in your mission. Father God, you are a sending God. For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. Lord, and thank you so very much, Jesus, for living our life and for inviting us into your life, into the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. And I just want to thank you for this opportunity that you’ve given us today with Cara to talk about your mission, Jesus. And Father, I want to pray for all of our congregations within GCI. Those that may be feeling that living out on mission and moving into missional rhythms is something that is quite difficult. That it’s quite hard. Lord, I pray that you give us that sense of knowing that it is your mission and that there is joy in participating in your mission.
I want to lift up those pastors, Lord, that have a desire to move their congregations, to flip DNA in their churches, to value mission with more intentionality. I want to pray a blessing on them, Father God. I want to ask you, Lord, to lift them up, Father, that they would know that you are for them and that you are with them.
Lord, I also want to pray for those pastors that feel that their congregations no longer have the capacity and the ability to do this. May they be at peace with where they are in their lives.
But Lord, first I want to give you thanks, Lord, for the GCI family as a whole, internationally, Lord, for what you want to do with us. May you give us discernment Lord for what you are doing in our communities. And Lord, may we participate with you. Be with us. Be with us as we continue on our journey of missional living. In your name we pray, and we thank you. Amen.
Cara: One thing that always stands out to me when he talks about mission is the stories he tells, because he doesn’t just understand mission intellectually from books or academia. He lives mission out. What resonates with you from what he said, Sarah?
Sarah: I really appreciated how Heber emphasize the need for us to break down our four walls of a congregation and to move outwards toward inclusion. And he mentioned that shifting a congregation’s mindset to one of missional mentality does not happen overnight. And I think that’s really important to note.
I think it’s easy for me at least to expect the church to be more inclusive immediately. But I’ve come to learn that, many times, it takes more time and effort than I would think. And that’s totally okay. We want churches to be places where people’s hearts have the freedom to be transformed to that of missional living and being more inclusive and kinder to their neighbors.
However, I do want to clarify that if I think a church is still in that transition period of developing a missional mindset, it will not be a safe place for someone who may be different than everyone else. I won’t recommend that church for that new person at that time. Maybe in a few years after developing their missional mindset, I would recommend that church. But an individual’s safety and experiences and inclusion are a top priority for me.
I think that really connects to what Heber said. Where a few years after you plant your church, you may realize that you were in the wrong place or targeting the wrong community and may need to readjust and replant your church. Not every church is right for every person and community. And it is from an attitude of humility that we can recognize that.
So, give yourself and your church time and grace to develop a missional mentality. But also make sure to have connections and resources (including virtual, especially in this day and age) at hand for the community, that aren’t your church’s resources during that transition time. I think churches recognizing they aren’t the right community for everyone and being able to point people to other places, is an aspect of missional living that tangibly demonstrates your love for people.
It’s one kingdom. So, let’s start acting like it.
Cara: Thank you, Sarah, for sharing that. And I think that also connects with what he said, that it can be meaningful for a church to distinguish between missional and missionary. Not every church is well equipped to serve every community or every person. There’s wisdom in that. And amen, it is one kingdom. I love that.
We do have a lot of resources in GCI that are available as we learn and grow in ministry participation together. One of those resources is Grace Communion Seminary.
Sarah: Grace Communion Seminary now offers a seven-course diploma of Christian ministry with a focus on discipleship, worship, or witness designed for GCI Avenue champions. Visit www.gcs.edu for more information.
Cara: Friends, we really appreciate you listening to the GC Podcast. If you like what you heard, give us a rating where you listened to the podcast. It really helps us get the word out and to invite others to join the conversation. Until next time, keep living and sharing the gospel.
We want to thank you for listening to this episode of the GC Podcast. We hope you have found value in it to become a healthier leader. We would love to hear from you. If you have a suggestion on a topic, or if there is someone who you think we should interview, email us at email@example.com. Remember, healthy churches start with healthy leaders; invest in yourself and your leaders.